Fellowship Profile: Randy Travis

Fellowship Profile: Randy Travis

April 10, 2023
Ashley Balsaviasavb88640@uga.edu

The following is one installment of a series recognizing alumni and friends who will be honored at the 2023 Grady Salutes celebration on April 28, 2023. For more details, please see our posts about our Fellowship honorees, Alumni Award recipients and Dean’s Medalist.

Congratulations to Randy Travis (ABJ ’82) who has been named to this year’s class of Grady Fellowship inductees.

Travis became interested in reporting in high school during a year-long sabbatical in England with his parents. “While I was there, I started reading the International Herald Tribune because I wanted to read the baseball scores for the Braves,” he said. Upon returning to his hometown of Athens, he joined the high school newspaper and eventually decided to pursue broadcast journalism in college.

In college, Travis wrote for the Athens Observer.
In college, Travis was a sports writer for for the Athens Daily News. Here’s a clipping of a story he wrote about former UGA football player Herschel Walker.

Travis began his career after college at 13-WMAZ in Macon, Georgia before moving to Greenville, South Carolina to work as a bureau chief for the Anderson Bureau of WYFF. “I was the only guy there so I could be anything I wanted,” he said. After that, he worked in Memphis at WMC-TV before moving to FOX 5 Atlanta, where he has since worked for more than 30 years.

Travis is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter, who joined WAGA in 1990 as a general assignment reporter. In 1994, he moved to the station’s distinguished investigative unit, the FOX 5 I-Team, which Travis says changed his career entirely. “General assignment reporting is important, but it can get mundane after awhile when you’re covering the same kinds of stories,” Travis said. “With investigative reporting, every story that I do makes a difference.”

In addition to the Peabody Award, his investigative work has earned him two national Edward R. Murrow awards, plus more than 20 regional Emmy awards.  Travis is also the recipient of the 2005 Mid-Career Alumni Award from Grady College.

Randy Travis speaks onstage at the 78th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street on May 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont)
 What experience during your time at Grady College had the biggest influence on where you are today?

There’s a professor who’s passed away now: Bill Martin. There was a famous show in 1970s about a newsroom called “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”,  and it had a news director named Lou Grant, and he was a tough news director. Bill was like Lou Grant – he loved his students and and he had a huge impact on us.

During the spring of my senior year, I took a class called “Advanced Radio–TV News,” where you have to actually go out to do your stories and it would air on GPTV in the form of documentary. That’s all we could do. We didn’t have any regular newscasts back then. There was clear talent in my class – including Deborah Roberts, Eugenia Harvey and Chuck Westbrook. Bill was able to give us something that I think Grady is so good at, and he was able to give us confidence. All the talent in the world is not going to land you a job unless you think you can get the job. We came out of that class ready to take on the world. I was only 20 when I graduated, and I looked like I was 16 on air. I had no business at all being on television. But, Bill gave us this confidence that we could make it in this business.

What advice do you have for today’s Grady College students?
Travis began working for WAGA in 1990, moving to the investigative unit in 1994.

You’ve got to watch the news. You’ve got to read the newspaper and not just read what comes up on your news feed on TikTok or Facebook or Instagram. Read a newspaper every day. Watch a real newscast. When you go out in your social group, you need to be the one who knows more about what’s going on the world than the rest of your friends. Don’t let the botany major be the one who knows what’s going on.

Try to write. When you read, you become a better writer – I think they go hand in hand – but you need to do the writing. That’s why I’m so fortunate when I was a sports writer, because I was writing stories every day on deadline that gave me just a tremendous foundation for what I do today. I encourage people even if you’re just writing for a blog or something, just try to write a column. Try to write something. It’ll always make you a better writer and you’ll get faster too.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

I would say not to worry so much. Also, ask more questions to my mentors – that is what I would tell my 20-year old self. I wrote for the Athens Observer and the editor of the paper was Phillip Lee Williams, who’s also a Grady fellow. He’s an accomplished novelist now and I was so lucky to work under him. I wish I had asked him more questions about writing. I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to have mentors like him in my life, and I should have taken better advantage of those resources.

Are there any books or podcasts that you would recommend to our students?
Travis anchoring at WMC-TV in Memphis.

I have read a lot of Bob Woodward’s books. He’s really good about covering important events in Washington. He is so meticulous as a journalist. He documents everything, records everything – I recommend anything that he writes. Al Tompkins is a great resource. He has great ideas for journalists and how we do our jobs.

What motivates you?

The Constitution only protects one private industry by name – and that’s the press. They did that because they knew that they had to protect the watchdog of government, and if we are not out asking “why?” to our elected leaders and having them justify their decisions or call them out on their hypocrisy, sometimes we’re not fulfilling our patriotic duty. That is why I’m so passionate about what we do as investigative reporters – because if we don’t do it, a major part of this of this shield for our democracy comes loose.

Comments have been trimmed for length and clarity. 

Tickets to Grady Salutes: Celebrating Achievement, Leadership and Commitment on April 28, 2023, are available for purchase. Register here.